HERE'S THE TRUTH...

HERE'S THE TRUTH...

A government organisation denies the truth to protect the interests of the rich and powerful. It sounds like an episode from the X-Files but it's what is happening here in Sedgemoor.

Stuart Houlet, Sedgemoor District Council's Development Management Service Manager, replied recently to our local MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, who had expressed concern about the impact of the Newbridge Farm poultry units on some of his constituents. Mr Houlet's response can at best be described as an exercise in ‘smoke and mirrors’, and at worst, a display of complete ineptitude. SDC's recent comment on a newspaper article also shows they have missed the point completely - either deliberately or through incompetence.

Please read the correspondence between our MP and the Council using the links above or from this online folder then read our comments below and see what you think...

Mr Houlet’s letter confirms the Council’s erroneous view that it can abdicate its responsibility for control of the ongoing odour issue by deflecting it entirely to the Environment Agency. This is despite the Council approving the original planning application 25/11/00018 on the basis “The development will not cause unacceptable levels of noise or odour…” The continual emission of unacceptable levels of odour represents an ongoing and significant breach of the original planning permission as set out in the decision notice dated 29 November 2011. The Council did not know back in 2011 that the redevelopment and its enlarged operation would be in an inappropriate location; however, seven years on and that position is no longer true. The Council cannot ignore the damning evidence from two years’ worth of complaints about unacceptable levels of odour (and noise); nor can it ignore the difficulty the Environment Agency (EA) is having in bringing down the odour to a level the EA deems to be ‘acceptable’. This is because the control mechanisms within the Environmental Permit issued by the EA, can only be effective if the development is in a location where environmental impacts are capable of being controlled to acceptable levels – which is the Council’s responsibility. Therefore, the Council could, and must, also act to address the odour issue by revoking the Planning Permission. Locals who are impacted by the odour and noise may indeed report the nuisance to the EA’s incident hotline, but despite Mr Houlet’s assertion otherwise, they are quite within their rights to focus their frustrations on the Council to take effective action through the Planning system where the EA is unable to under the Pollution Prevention & Control system.

Mr Houlet’s reference to application 25/17/00046 for the ‘chimney’ extensions, which was refused, is irrelevant; that matter has been discharged and the anticipated appeal from the applicant to the Planning Inspectorate has not materialised.

The letter also confirms what Mr Houlet informed us way back in February 2018, that the Council was already minded to refuse application 25/17/00047. If this has been the Council’s position for at least the last eight months, why did it take so long to determine the application? In the meantime, the operation is allowed to carry on without being penalised and continues to emit unacceptable levels of odour, from which we suffer despite the measures taken by the operator at the request of the EA. 

The year-long period to determine the application, and the exchange of correspondence and the ‘draft’ Addendum between the Council and the applicant (copies of which the Council has refused to provide) are not the only issues that have led to suspicions of collusion. Mr Houlet goes to great lengths to explain that the development was actually started within the specified three-year period. We had previously clarified this with the Council and quickly sought to dispel the belief that we and many locals held; however, copies of communication between the applicant and the Council suggest that someone in the Council unwarrantably notified the applicant that the three-year planning window was about to expire. This is what will have prompted the applicant to commence work at short notice just a few weeks before it was too late and was therefore able to satisfy the Council that Condition 1 of the Planning Permission had been discharged. 

Mr Houlet’s letter unfairly highlights East Huntspill Parish Council’s support for application 25/11/00018 in 2011 to redevelop the Newbridge Farm site. There appeared to be an assumption by many of the consultees that as the original four-shed chicken farm had not caused any noticeable nuisance, there was no reason to object to the redevelopment. Such an assumption would have been reinforced by the supporting information submitted by the applicant, including the fundamentally flawed odour modelling, use of ‘state of the art’ ventilation and the assertions to mitigate visual impact that ultimately failed to materialise. It is important to note that Mr Houlet confirms in his letter that there were no responses from interested parties to the original application. This is because the Council failed in its due diligence to notify a sufficient number of nearby residents and enable their right to participate in environmental decision-making under the UNECE (Aarhus) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. The public record shows that the Council identified only three nearby properties for notification. It is probably no coincidence that these three properties were listed by the applicant as being the closest to Newbridge Farm and classed them as being mainly agricultural properties likely to be ambivalent towards the redevelopment. We asked the owners of those three properties about this and they do not recall receiving any notification from the Council about the redevelopment of Newbridge Farm. They, and everyone else in the area, were taken completely by surprise when the demolition of the old sheds started in March 2016, which was the first anyone really knew about it. The 4½ year gap between Planning Permission approval and the redevelopment starting in earnest, meant that searches undertaken for house purchases in that period failed to pick up the redevelopment or the varied Environmental Permit. This is a particular contention for people who moved into the area nearby without knowledge of the redevelopment and the potential nuisance that has since become a costly reality; people would not have moved into the area had they known about the enlarged chicken farm operation.

Mr Houlet tries to make light of the respected professional opinion from a specialist broiler unit planning consultant, and legal opinion from an Environmental Law Foundation barrister, that the site is unauthorised by associating it incorrectly with the relatively minor discrepancies between the site plan and two sheds that were built smaller than the submitted plan. The opinion actually focuses on the breach of Condition 3, the installation of the banned light-grey roof material, which is such a conspicuous and major breach of permission that based on planning case law, it should render the whole development as unauthorised. It seems strange that in 2011, the Council deemed the roof colour to be such a significant consideration that it placed a very specific condition on the applicant. Why now does it appear to be treating it as a relatively minor infringement? However, it is not the only breach of planning permission; here is a list of all the breaches we have identified:

1.     Installing the light-coloured ‘goosewing grey’ roof material contrary to the very specific Condition 3 to use the darker ‘merlin grey’ and not to commence until given written approval.

2.     Not using the darker ‘merlin grey’ for the side elevations of the sheds as specified on page 20 of the original Environmental Statement.

3.     Erecting bright, silver-coloured feed bins, not green-coloured feed bins as specified on page 21 of the original Environmental Statement and more suited to the location.

4.     Going ahead and planting non-native, fast-growing conifers, contrary to the proposals on page 38 of the original Environmental Statement; the submitted response for discharging Condition 8 to plant and cultivate existing native trees, shrubs and hedgerows; and the Council’s own Landscape Officer’s consultation response.

5.     Not building to plan; two of the sheds were not built to the specified size.

6.     Not applying for and receiving the appropriate Building Regulations approval for the type and size of shed constructed. 

7.     Causing unacceptable levels of odour (and noise) since October 2016 contrary to the Planning Permission Notice of Approval dated 29 November 2011. 

The Council seems to be unwilling to exercise its prerogative either by delaying any enforcement action for the not inconsiderable breaches of Planning Permission; or by not revoking the Planning Permission and deeming the development as unauthorised and able to be closed down. 

We therefore call for an investigation into the Council’s handling of all aspects of this redevelopment, and the apparent lack of understanding within Mr Houlet’s department of the prevailing Planning legislation and case law, and how to apply it.

A government organisation denies the truth to protect the interests of the rich and powerful. It sounds like an episode from the X-Files but it's what is happening here in Sedgemoor.

Stuart Houlet, Sedgemoor District Council's Development Management Service Manager, replied recently to our local MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, who had expressed concern about the impact of the Newbridge Farm poultry units on some of his constituents. Mr Houlet's response can at best be described as an exercise in ‘smoke and mirrors’, and at worst, a display of complete ineptitude. SDC's recent comment on a newspaper article also shows they have missed the point completely - either deliberately or through incompetence.

Please read the correspondence between our MP and the Council using the links above or from this online folder then read our comments below and see what you think...

Mr Houlet’s letter confirms the Council’s erroneous view that it can abdicate its responsibility for control of the ongoing odour issue by deflecting it entirely to the Environment Agency. This is despite the Council approving the original planning application 25/11/00018 on the basis “The development will not cause unacceptable levels of noise or odour…” The continual emission of unacceptable levels of odour represents an ongoing and significant breach of the original planning permission as set out in the decision notice dated 29 November 2011. The Council did not know back in 2011 that the redevelopment and its enlarged operation would be in an inappropriate location; however, seven years on and that position is no longer true. The Council cannot ignore the damning evidence from two years’ worth of complaints about unacceptable levels of odour (and noise); nor can it ignore the difficulty the Environment Agency (EA) is having in bringing down the odour to a level the EA deems to be ‘acceptable’. This is because the control mechanisms within the Environmental Permit issued by the EA, can only be effective if the development is in a location where environmental impacts are capable of being controlled to acceptable levels – which is the Council’s responsibility. Therefore, the Council could, and must, also act to address the odour issue by revoking the Planning Permission. Locals who are impacted by the odour and noise may indeed report the nuisance to the EA’s incident hotline, but despite Mr Houlet’s assertion otherwise, they are quite within their rights to focus their frustrations on the Council to take effective action through the Planning system where the EA is unable to under the Pollution Prevention & Control system.

Mr Houlet’s reference to application 25/17/00046 for the ‘chimney’ extensions, which was refused, is irrelevant; that matter has been discharged and the anticipated appeal from the applicant to the Planning Inspectorate has not materialised.

The letter also confirms what Mr Houlet informed us way back in February 2018, that the Council was already minded to refuse application 25/17/00047. If this has been the Council’s position for at least the last eight months, why did it take so long to determine the application? In the meantime, the operation is allowed to carry on without being penalised and continues to emit unacceptable levels of odour, from which we suffer despite the measures taken by the operator at the request of the EA. 

The year-long period to determine the application, and the exchange of correspondence and the ‘draft’ Addendum between the Council and the applicant (copies of which the Council has refused to provide) are not the only issues that have led to suspicions of collusion. Mr Houlet goes to great lengths to explain that the development was actually started within the specified three-year period. We had previously clarified this with the Council and quickly sought to dispel the belief that we and many locals held; however, copies of communication between the applicant and the Council suggest that someone in the Council unwarrantably notified the applicant that the three-year planning window was about to expire. This is what will have prompted the applicant to commence work at short notice just a few weeks before it was too late and was therefore able to satisfy the Council that Condition 1 of the Planning Permission had been discharged. 

Mr Houlet’s letter unfairly highlights East Huntspill Parish Council’s support for application 25/11/00018 in 2011 to redevelop the Newbridge Farm site. There appeared to be an assumption by many of the consultees that as the original four-shed chicken farm had not caused any noticeable nuisance, there was no reason to object to the redevelopment. Such an assumption would have been reinforced by the supporting information submitted by the applicant, including the fundamentally flawed odour modelling, use of ‘state of the art’ ventilation and the assertions to mitigate visual impact that ultimately failed to materialise. It is important to note that Mr Houlet confirms in his letter that there were no responses from interested parties to the original application. This is because the Council failed in its due diligence to notify a sufficient number of nearby residents and enable their right to participate in environmental decision-making under the UNECE (Aarhus) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. The public record shows that the Council identified only three nearby properties for notification. It is probably no coincidence that these three properties were listed by the applicant as being the closest to Newbridge Farm and classed them as being mainly agricultural properties likely to be ambivalent towards the redevelopment. We asked the owners of those three properties about this and they do not recall receiving any notification from the Council about the redevelopment of Newbridge Farm. They, and everyone else in the area, were taken completely by surprise when the demolition of the old sheds started in March 2016, which was the first anyone really knew about it. The 4½ year gap between Planning Permission approval and the redevelopment starting in earnest, meant that searches undertaken for house purchases in that period failed to pick up the redevelopment or the varied Environmental Permit. This is a particular contention for people who moved into the area nearby without knowledge of the redevelopment and the potential nuisance that has since become a costly reality; people would not have moved into the area had they known about the enlarged chicken farm operation.

Mr Houlet tries to make light of the respected professional opinion from a specialist broiler unit planning consultant, and legal opinion from an Environmental Law Foundation barrister, that the site is unauthorised by associating it incorrectly with the relatively minor discrepancies between the site plan and two sheds that were built smaller than the submitted plan. The opinion actually focuses on the breach of Condition 3, the installation of the banned light-grey roof material, which is such a conspicuous and major breach of permission that based on planning case law, it should render the whole development as unauthorised. It seems strange that in 2011, the Council deemed the roof colour to be such a significant consideration that it placed a very specific condition on the applicant. Why now does it appear to be treating it as a relatively minor infringement? However, it is not the only breach of planning permission; here is a list of all the breaches we have identified:

1.     Installing the light-coloured ‘goosewing grey’ roof material contrary to the very specific Condition 3 to use the darker ‘merlin grey’ and not to commence until given written approval.

2.     Not using the darker ‘merlin grey’ for the side elevations of the sheds as specified on page 20 of the original Environmental Statement.

3.     Erecting bright, silver-coloured feed bins, not green-coloured feed bins as specified on page 21 of the original Environmental Statement and more suited to the location.

4.     Going ahead and planting non-native, fast-growing conifers, contrary to the proposals on page 38 of the original Environmental Statement; the submitted response for discharging Condition 8 to plant and cultivate existing native trees, shrubs and hedgerows; and the Council’s own Landscape Officer’s consultation response.

5.     Not building to plan; two of the sheds were not built to the specified size.

6.     Not applying for and receiving the appropriate Building Regulations approval for the type and size of shed constructed. 

7.     Causing unacceptable levels of odour (and noise) since October 2016 contrary to the Planning Permission Notice of Approval dated 29 November 2011. 

The Council seems to be unwilling to exercise its prerogative either by delaying any enforcement action for the not inconsiderable breaches of Planning Permission; or by not revoking the Planning Permission and deeming the development as unauthorised and able to be closed down. 

We therefore call for an investigation into the Council’s handling of all aspects of this redevelopment, and the apparent lack of understanding within Mr Houlet’s department of the prevailing Planning legislation and case law, and how to apply it.

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